Think about this. Around 13 billion years ago, from a micro point in an endless void, erupted a universe so immense that all the grains of sand, on all the beaches of the world, don’t equal the hundred billion suns in our galaxy, the Milky Way, just one among a hundred billion galaxies in the vastness of space. How could everything that exists have come out of nothing? What triggered such an incredible cosmic convulsion? Scientists call it “Big Bang”, but don’t know why it happened. We can only marvel at how those exploding particles of matter eventually transformed themselves into organisms as intricate as human beings. Whatever started that journey, our existence is the greatest miracle of all.
If we measured ourselves on a cosmic scale, our egos would be slimmer than a mosquito under a sledgehammer. But we inhabit intersecting universes, the outer and inner. The worlds within us are probably as complex as the multiverse that surrounds us. The average human body has over ten trillion (10,000,000,000,000) cells, with 10 times as many microorganisms in our gut alone. The birth of a thinking, feeling human is as much a wonder as the creation of the cosmos. We are all loving, laughing, weeping miracles.
The human mind is, again, another dimension altogether. Within each of us are the seeds of every vice and virtue, every genius, every horror, that ever existed. We can be murderers, prostitutes and saints. An Einstein or a duffer. A Gandhi or a drunkard. A Steve Jobs or drug dealer. Not one of us is alike in mind, body or spirit. We all have our peculiarities, and that’s what differentiates us. Every human being is a unique experiment in consciousness.
Yet, for many, being different can be a perilous, painful path. From the cradle to grave, we are moulded to conform by family, community, religion and society. We are trained to bow before their norms, rules, and beliefs for many historical reasons. From earliest days as hunter-gatherers, humans realised that teams survived, individuals didn’t. Safety lay in numbers, the idea imbedded itself. With the advent of religion, thought control became a way of perpetuating the power of priests. Non-believers were shunned and shamed. They risked losing their family, their community and, often, their livelihood.
Opposing an established belief system has always been a risky business. Hinduism locked professions into a caste system for centuries, woe to him who defied it. Galileo was pounded into submission by the Catholic Church for daring to suggest that, contrary to what they believed, the earth orbited the sun. Muslims feared the threat of fatwas if they questioned their religion. Authoritarian regimes wielded the same terror: Communists, Nazis, Fascists, and dictators of every stripe, all made life hell for those who opposed them.
While it’s good to agree to drive on the same side of the road, conformity has rarely created anything revolutionary, progressive or life changing. Every inventor of importance had to go beyond conventional wisdom. Even as professors lectured on the impossibility of flight, the Wright Brothers took to the air. Christ, Buddha and Prophet Muhammad were all revolutionaries in their times, defying established belief systems. As Albert Camus said, “It is the rebels within society that make it dynamic”. Many contrarians have created new worlds.
Today, being unique is less of a hazard. With the spread of the Internet, and the ever-expanding forums of social media, we are moving beyond the control of monolithic power centres. We are entering the Age of the Individual. No matter how contrarian you are, you’ll find enough like-minded souls to give you the strength to be you. Even if it means moving beyond family, community, politics or religion.
Individuality always doesn’t have to be about big issues or inventions. It can be as simple as having the courage to speak up at a family dinner, even if called “outrageous”. Turning your passion into your profession, not being pressured by others expectations, or having an unusual lifestyle, whatever really matters to you. In the age of the Internet, we need not be so timid about unconventional ways, beliefs and ideas. What makes us individual are our differences, our idiosyncrasies, our eccentricities. Now there are many who will share your journey, and celebrate your individuality, each at the centre of their intersecting universes.
An edited version of this article appeared in India's Hindustan Times Oct 19, 2011
Kabir Bedi is an internationally renowned Indian actor and columnist, whose career spans Bollywood, Hollywood, England and Europe. He has been a voting member of the “Oscars Academy” (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) for almost three decades. . In December 2010, the Italian Government bestowed him a Knighthood, “Cavaliere”, its highest civilian honour.